Meeting My Father-in-Law, Who Died in 1974

I was going through a photo album from 1968 made up of photos mostly taken by my father-in-law, and it was as if I was meeting him for the first time. Which, in some ways, I was. Charles Christopher Kirk died in 1974, when I was 9, Virginia was 12, and we were almost 15 years away from meeting. We’ve been married 28 years and counting.

The photos were the usual stuff, the kids around the house and on birthdays and family occasions, and a few travel photos. But for me, it was an introduction to his gaze. He caught the kids in moments of quiet, hanging on the front stoop while playing with friends or he got them to pose on a snow day or at the beach. There were photos of a Western trip he and Rosalie took, and Rosalie ends up posing at sign posts along the way — Pikes Peak, the Grand Canyon. In all of these he takes the time to compose an image that speaks to what he cares about. You can feel the love. At least I could, because it’s how I take photos too.

There’s one of this little girl, relaxing in a chair (see above, but better below). It’s quiet and intimate, and Virginia at rest, which I imagine was as unusual then as now, and all I could think as I looked at it was, we both loved this same person, over all these years, and how cruel it was that six years later he died and he didn’t see her at 15 and 25, on her wedding day and as she became a mom and a reporter and a social worker and a wife and a bike rider and a grandma and a care giver and all the things that were probably so apparent to him when he looked at her. I really ached for him.

The strangest, wonderful thing for me in this grief time, in saying goodbye to Rosalie, is finally, at long last, meeting Chris Kirk. And being drawn together by this simple fact: what you loved, I love, too. It’s one of the graces of this parting time.

Chris’ photos (and some of Chris himself)

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